The BBC is reporting that a 21 year old man has died in Maghaberry Prison. Aaron Hogg was on remand. He was found in his cell yesterday morning. What raises even more concern about this tragedy is that it follows on from two other deaths in custody this month.
Earlier this month two young people committed suicide in Hydebank Wood. Samuel Carson was aged 19 and Frances McKeown aged 23. The BBC reports that ligatures were removed from both cells. The deaths are said to be unconnected. The Director of the Prison Service, Colin McConnell, said in his statement that in the past the staff had had ’cause for concern in terms of their behaviour and demeanour.’ They were not considered at risk in recent weeks and so were been attended to the same as all inmates. Three inquiries will now be held into the deaths: the coroner, the PSNI and the Prisoner Ombudsman.
While awaiting these reports there are a number of issues to bear in mind. Each of these prisoners were on remand. Mr Hogg was on remand. Mr Carson was still awaiting his trial and so had not been convicted of anything. Ms McKeown was awaiting sentence. None then had as yet been sentenced to prison. CAJ, in their statement earlier this month on the deaths, point out that
The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners oblige medical officers to consider whether imprisonment itself is actually detrimental to the prisoner’s mental or physical well-being. This is particularly pertinent in relation to remand prisoners where alternative options are available.
In addition are the long standing concerns as to the standards in Northern Irish prisons and in particular, the provision and treatment made for prisoners with mental health problems. The Prison Service Annual Report for 09/10 tells us that in that year 190 incidents of self harm were reported and one death of custody. In the last three weeks there have been three deaths. On this blog Phil Scraton and Linda Moore previously discussed the serious issues surrounding prisons in Northern Ireland. Let us hope that action is taken quickly to improve conditions and provision of mental health services in the prisons.